A former University of Utah police officer will not face criminal charges for showing off explicit photos of student-athlete Lauren McCluskey to his co-workers.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said Thursday that his office has declined to prosecute Miguel Deras. While he believes the officer’s actions were “definitely reckless,” Gill said there is no Utah law for addressing this type of police misconduct.
“We realized there was no real statute we could use for this case,” Gill said. “We’re incensed like everyone else by the behavior. It was inappropriate. But if there’s not a statute, there’s nothing we can do.”
The decision was announced after the last day Gill could have filed misdemeanor charges for abusing evidence. The statute of limitations has now expired.
Though the Utah Department of Public Safety found in August that Deras had inappropriately shown off the pictures of McCluskey to at least three of his male colleagues without a work-related reason, the actual display occurred two years ago in the days before McCluskey was killed on campus in October 2018.
“We just got it so late and were limited in what options we had,” Gill said.
Without many avenues for charges of officer misconduct, Gill’s office examined whether it could charge Deras under what’s called the “revenge porn law” in Utah. With that, sharing or displaying a compromising photo of someone without the person’s consent can be prosecuted. The statute, though, requires proof that the person in the images was harmed. McCluskey’s death, Gill said, made that impossible.
Members of the person’s family being hurt, such as McCluskey’s parents, doesn’t count.
Jill and Matt McCluskey said Thursday that they were disappointed in Gill for “not pursuing justice” in their daughter’s case.
“Instead of helping her, Deras showed her images to other male officers and bragged about it,” they said in an email. “A consequence of Gill’s decision is that women will hesitate to report extortion and harassment for fear that the private information they provide will be compromised, or even leered at, by officers for reasons unrelated to her case.”
Their attorney, Jim McConkie, doesn’t agree with Gill’s reading of the law.
For one thing, he said, Lauren McCluskey was harmed while she was alive by the officer choosing to show off her photos and in the time he could have been investigating her concerns. And McConkie believes her reputation should be considered a part of her that lives on now.
“What Gill is saying to women with this decision," McConkie added, “is ‘We can’t help you. Don’t come to us.'"
Gill said he intends to lobby the Utah Legislature to update state law on officer misconduct, particularly as it applies to viewing or showing off sensitive victim photos. But that won’t change anything in Deras' case.
“There’s genuine concern over what the officer was engaging in,” the district attorney said. “We are extremely sad for the family’s loss and what they are going through with this. In the end, though, we just had nothing to charge Deras under.”
Deras remains under investigation by Utah’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, which is responsible for overseeing law enforcement. This state division could still suspend or revoke his police certification. Lt. Nick Street said Thursday that any action on the officer’s license likely wouldn’t come until the end of the year.
Deras was also fired earlier this summer from his job with Logan police, where he worked after leaving the U.'s force in September 2019, in response to the state investigative report. He is also being sued as part of a $56 million federal lawsuit that McCluskey’s parents have filed against the U.
The state’s investigation into his misconduct was originally spurred by a May article in The Salt Lake Tribune.
The Tribune detailed how Deras had been assigned to investigate McCluskey’s reports that she was being extorted by Melvin Rowland, a man she had briefly dated. She had given Deras the pictures of herself as evidence in her case.
But he did little to look into her concerns. And, along with two witness accounts, the U. confirmed earlier this year that the officer had displayed McCluskey’s photos to co-workers days before the 21-year-old student was shot to death outside her dorm by Rowland, who later died by suicide.
After the story published, the school decided its own internal review had not been thorough enough and called in investigators with the state Department of Public Safety to investigate further.
Those investigators also found that Deras displayed the images inappropriately on multiple occasions. Deras reportedly told one staff member that he got to “look at them whenever he wants.” And Deras showed a sergeant one of the explicit photos of McCluskey while they were at the crime scene on the night she was fatally shot, after the superior said, “I wonder what she looked like.”
Deras' legal counsel has contended that each display was “for the sole purpose of providing context for identifying Lauren” or asking how to upload the images to the police database — though Deras had worked at the department for three years at that point. The report also found that Deras had a driver license photo of McCluskey on his phone which he could have shown instead.
Deras and his attorneys declined to comment Thursday.
The state review team was unable to determine whether Deras had downloaded the intimate photos to his phone or accessed them only through his email. The report notes, though, that Deras switched phones after McCluskey was killed, so much of the data later recovered on his device during the DPS investigation was encrypted or corrupted.
Gill said that also complicated any attempt to prosecute. The law is more clearly defined, he said, if someone saved an image than it is if the person showed it off without consent.
Additionally, he said, his team was able to get only one former officer from the U. to agree to be a witness and corroborate that the photos were improperly shown — even though three employees told state investigators that the display had occurred.
“He was certainly a credible witness,” Gill added. “But with everything, there was not a reasonable likelihood of success at trial.”
The University of Utah declined to comment Thursday. Since Deras’ actions were confirmed, the school has overhauled its campus police department and changed the rules for how officers handle evidence. Additionally, the U. fired the three officers whom Deras showed the photos to, saying they had a responsibility to come forward sooner to report the misconduct.